An Abbotsford woman who went on a spree of stealing wallets and credit cards in late 2011 and early 2012 apologized in court on Monday, just before the judge sentenced her to 15 months’ house arrest.
“I am sorry, and that’s not the person I am today … I am sorry for the things I did,” Michelle Lee Lachapelle said in Abbotsford provincial court.
Lachapelle, 35, pleaded guilty to nine charges – four counts of theft, two counts of the unauthorized use of credit card data, and one count each of fraud, possessing/using a stolen credit card and possessing stolen property.
She was initially facing 29 charges, but several of those charges were merged.
The offences encompass almost a dozen separate incidents in which Lachapelle stole wallets and other items – including cash, iPhones and gift cards – from people whose valuables were put aside at locations such as the Abbotsford Recreation Centre (ARC), a hair salon and MSA Arena.
She would then use their credit cards to rack up purchases at various locations.
In one instance, Lachapelle purchased $700 in tires and had them installed at AbbSry Tires.
In another case, she stole a wallet from a purse left in an employee’s office at ARC. Within a two-hour period, she used the woman’s credit cards to ring up thousands of dollars in purchases, including two $400 gift cards from Sears, more than $1,400 in items from Home Depot, $600 in gas, and almost $300 in shoes at The Bay.
Lachapelle also stole the wallet of a teacher who had left her purse in her classroom while she accompanied her students to a school Christmas concert.
Lachapelle used the woman’s credit card to purchase some items, including a porcelain cross, at the House of James bookstore.
In several of the cases, Lachapelle’s crimes were captured on video surveillance, and police recognized her in the images.
She was also identified through GPS tracking systems on phones she had stolen, the licence plate of her vehicle and witness descriptions, through which several people mentioned Lachapelle’s distinctive barbed-wire tattoo on her upper right arm.
The Crown and defence lawyers made a joint submission to Judge Gregory Brown, both recommending that Lachapelle be sentenced to 15 months’ house arrest, rather than being jailed.
The lawyers said her actions had been the result of a “drug-addled mind.”
Peter McDermick, Lachapelle’s lawyer, said his client’s offences were impulsive acts of desperation, related to relapsing into a crack cocaine addiction.
“This is a woman who (was) behaving irrationally,” he said.
However, he said Lachapelle has since turned her life around. She has moved out of Abbotsford, has been clean and sober for 19 months, regularly attends and facilitates 12-step meetings, goes to church, is in a stable relationship, and is focused on caring for her five children.
McDermick said Lachapelle has taken full responsibility for her actions, as evidenced by her guilty pleas.
“It’s night and day from the woman who committed these offences,” he said.
Although Brown expressed concerns that a relapse could see Lachapelle return to criminal activity, he said a sentence served in the community is best.
“There are so many different victims, all in her own community, and so many different crimes … but I do have to look at rehabilitation,” the judge said.
Lachapelle’s conditional sentence requires her to remain on her property, although she is allowed to leave in several circumstances, including when accompanied by her children or partner or attending church or 12-step meetings. She is also permitted to go grocery shopping on her own two days a week between the hours of noon and 6 p.m.
She has been banned from attending ARC, MSA Arena, the House of James and AbbSry Tires.